My Take: The Bible really does condemn homosexuality
March 3rd, 2011
01:25 PM ET

My Take: The Bible really does condemn homosexuality

By Robert A. J. Gagnon, Special to CNN

Editor’s Note: Robert A. J. Gagnon, Ph.D., is associate professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and author of The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics and (with Dan Via) Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views.

In her recent CNN Belief Blog post “The Bible’s surprisingly mixed messages on sexuality,” Jennifer Wright Knust claims that Christians can’t appeal to the Bible to justify opposition to homosexual practice because the Bible provides no clear witness on the subject and is too flawed to serve as a moral guide.

As a scholar who has written books and articles on the Bible and homosexual practice, I can say that the reality is the opposite of her claim. It’s shocking that in her editorial and even her book, "Unprotected Texts," Knust ignores a mountain of evidence against her positions.

It raises a serious question: does the Left read significant works that disagree with pro-gay interpretations of Scripture and choose to simply ignore them?

Owing to space limitations I will focus on her two key arguments: the ideal of gender-neutral humanity and slavery arguments.

Knust's lead argument is that sexual differentiation in Genesis, Jesus and Paul is nothing more than an "afterthought" because "God's original intention for humanity was androgyny."

It’s true that Genesis presents the first human (Hebrew adam, from adamah, ground: “earthling”) as originally sexually undifferentiated. But what Knust misses is that once something is “taken from” the human to form a woman, the human, now differentiated as a man, finds his sexual other half in that missing element, a woman.

That’s why Genesis speaks of the woman as a “counterpart” or “complement,” using a Hebrew expression neged, which means both “corresponding to” and “opposite.” She is similar as regards humanity but different in terms of gender. If sexual relations are to be had, they are to be had with a sexual counterpart or complement.

Knust cites the apostle Paul’s remark about “no ‘male and female’” in Galatians. Yet Paul applies this dictum to establishing the equal worth of men and women before God, not to eliminating a male-female prerequisite for sex.

Applied to sexual relations, the phrase means “no sex,” not “acceptance of homosexual practice,” as is evident both from the consensus of the earliest interpreters of this phrase and from Jesus' own sayings about marriage in this age and the next.

All the earliest interpreters agreed that "no 'male and female,'" applied to sexual relations, meant "no sex."

That included Paul and the ascetic believers at Corinth in the mid-first century; and the church fathers and gnostics of the second to fourth centuries. Where they disagreed is over whether to postpone mandatory celibacy until the resurrection (the orthodox view) or to begin insisting on it now (the heretical view).

Jesus’ view

According to Jesus, “when (people) rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like the angels” (Mark 12:25). Sexual relations and differentiation had only penultimate significance. The unmediated access to God that resurrection bodies bring would make sex look dull by comparison.

At the same time Jesus regarded the male-female paradigm as essential if sexual relations were to be had in this present age.

In rejecting a revolving door of divorce-and-remarriage and, implicitly, polygamy Jesus cited Genesis: “From the beginning of creation, ‘male and female he made them.’ ‘For this reason a man …will be joined to his woman and the two shall become one flesh’” (Mark 10:2-12; Matthew 19:3-12).

Jesus’ point was that God’s limiting of persons in a sexual union to two is evident in his creation of two (and only two) primary sexes: male and female, man and woman. The union of male and female completes the sexual spectrum, rendering a third partner both unnecessary and undesirable.

The sectarian Jewish group known as the Essenes similarly rejected polygamy on the grounds that God made us “male and female,” two sexual complements designed for a union consisting only of two.

Knust insinuates that Jesus wouldn’t have opposed homosexual relationships. Yet Jesus’ interpretation of Genesis demonstrates that he regarded a male-female prerequisite for marriage as the foundation on which other sexual standards could be predicated, including monogamy. Obviously the foundation is more important than anything predicated on it.

Jesus developed a principle of interpretation that Knust ignores: God’s “from the beginning” creation of “male and female” trumps some sexual behaviors permitted in the Old Testament. So there’s nothing unorthodox about recognizing change in Scripture’s sexual ethics. But note the direction of the change: toward less sexual license and greater conformity to the logic of the male-female requirement in Genesis. Knust is traveling in the opposite direction.

Knust’s slavery analogy and avoidance of closer analogies

Knust argues that an appeal to the Bible for opposing homosexual practice is as morally unjustifiable as pre-Civil War appeals to the Bible for supporting slavery. The analogy is a bad one.

The best analogy will be the comparison that shares the most points of substantive correspondence with the item being compared. How much does the Bible’s treatment of slavery resemble its treatment of homosexual practice? Very little.

Scripture shows no vested interest in preserving the institution of slavery but it does show a strong vested interest from Genesis to Revelation in preserving a male-female prerequisite. Unlike its treatment of the institution of slavery, Scripture treats a male-female prerequisite for sex as a pre-Fall structure.

The Bible accommodates to social systems where sometimes the only alternative to starvation is enslavement. But it clearly shows a critical edge by specifying mandatory release dates and the right of kinship buyback; requiring that Israelites not be treated as slaves; and reminding Israelites that God had redeemed them from slavery in Egypt.

Paul urged enslaved believers to use an opportunity for freedom to maximize service to God and encouraged a Christian master (Philemon) to free his slave (Onesimus).

How can changing up on the Bible’s male-female prerequisite for sex be analogous to the church’s revision of the slavery issue if the Bible encourages critique of slavery but discourages critique of a male-female paradigm for sex?

Much closer analogies to the Bible’s rejection of homosexual practice are the Bible’s rejection of incest and the New Testament’s rejection of polyamory (polygamy).

Homosexual practice, incest, and polyamory are all (1) forms of sexual behavior (2) able to be conducted as adult-committed relationships but (3) strongly proscribed because (4) they violate creation structures or natural law.

Like same-sex intercourse, incest is sex between persons too much structurally alike, here as regards kinship rather than gender. Polyamory is a violation of the foundational “twoness” of the sexes.

The fact that Knust chooses a distant analogue (slavery) over more proximate analogues (incest, polyamory) shows that her analogical reasoning is driven more by ideological biases than by fair use of analogies.

Knust’s other arguments are riddled with holes.

In claiming that David and Jonathan had a homosexual relationship she confuses kinship affection with erotic love. Her claim that “from the perspective of the New Testament” the Sodom story was about “the near rape of angels, not sex between men” makes an "either-or" out of Jude 7’s "both-and."

Her canard that only a few Bible texts reject homosexual practice overlooks other relevant texts and the fact that infrequent mention is often a sign of significance. It is disturbing to read what passes nowadays for expert “liberal” reflections on what the Bible says about homosexual practice.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Robert A. J. Gagnon.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Bible • Christianity • Homosexuality

soundoff (4,272 Responses)
  1. Tomoyo

    The moral of this story is to put down the Bible and live your life by what is reasonable rather than by what is written.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
    • suthrncrna

      Very well educated and well articulated man. I am disappointed that there are so many closed minded and hating nonbelivers out there!

      March 3, 2011 at 9:37 pm |
    • Shannon

      "Living your life the way you want". That's what happened to Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. Satan spoke through a serpent and told them they could do what they wanted and they would beome like God...so where are Adam and Eve today? If they were like God-they would be alive and not dead. Satan is laughing at all those who are following him and making comments contrary to fact. Not only those who don't believe but continue to follow false religious teachings. Jesus said to 'Get out of her!' (Babylon the Great) One of Satan's deceptions is the disbelief in God. Revelation does not spare the truth of what the future holds neither do the other powerful prophecies throughout the Bible. There is much physical evidence to back up many things that have happened in the Bible. Keep searching for the truth. Don't just blindly believe contrary because it doesn't suit your lifestyle. Really research and the truth will come out if you are humble and you accept it, you won't make excuses for why you think it's flawed because you think it doesn't let you "do what you want". It's not about you. or for whatever reason you think it should be set aside.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:59 pm |
  2. chedar

    Human mimd tends to be fallible. Unless those people who write a section of the bible are truly enlightened, the scripture are untrue. Only when you a sentient being knows the ultimate reality, it will be subject to nothing but speculation. The bible in the old testament taught nothing but hatred and delusion. Try to learn the real love and compassion by trying the Four Noble Truth. This four noble truth will alleviate all suffering and better our world and treat our fellow men with dignity.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
  3. Sam

    I'm going to go out on a limb here and say this guy is a friend of Fred Phelps. Maybe his college roommate.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
  4. Jason

    Fairy tales and allegory. You've devoted your intellectual life to Mother Goose, Mr. Gagnon. Come back when you've begun basing your views on something real.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
  5. K AI

    Do most christians worship the Bible and not a God? Isn't that like worshiping idols?. Didn't Christ come here to glorify god, not himself nor a book. It seems like they result to mystical beliefs. They can't or do not think for themselves. When humans genetically evolve into the next step (when ever that is, but it will happen); I fear people who can't think for themselves will perish and be left behind as did the Neanderthals.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
  6. SeaDubb

    The bible is so substantially wrong on moral (see Leviticus) and scientific matters (see Genesis) of modern times, that we should cease to reference it as guide at all.

    That means, this guy. His article. His life's work – is a colossal waste of time. You know who likes to use religious texts to justify their intolerance? Taliban.

    Unless your talking about loving one another and compassion for all living things, then your opinion isn't worth the fairy tale you reference.

    Good Day Sir.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
    • Matt

      I might take you more seriously if you knew the difference between "your" and "you're." But probably not.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:32 pm |
    • Mark9988

      From whence do you derive your ethical principle that calls for love of others and compassion for all living things? This is certainly not human nature, otherwise it would be the norm, yet the Bible explicitly teaches these things. But the Bible also accurately teaches that human beings are only motivated by selfish ethics and have turned their back on what is morally good (as defined by God). Therefore, there is no culture or society that succeeds in living according to the code of love for others and compassion. Every human attempt at utopia has failed and will fail because the tree is rotten at the root, apart from God.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:05 pm |
  7. james

    The bible says all sorts of stuff is ok that most would consider atrocities in modern society. The fact that so many people base their lives around this collection of stories, some of which do provide good examples, many of which do not, and believe it to be true word for word is absurd to say the least.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
  8. Eric Nicolas

    I'm sure liberals do read significant works – but the Bible is no longer significant or even relevant to people's lives. It should be on the shelves next to fairy tales and Bulfinch's Mythology. It is an interesting historic curiosity, not a guide for human society. Fortunately there is no dogmatic, static, repressive owner's manual for the human being. We are free to choose our path. We make decisions, we change laws to fit contemporary mores, we progress and learn and grow. Religion does none of these things.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:26 pm |
    • jonathan severus

      I feel that you have hit the mark with your comment. Belief in and acknowledgement of a Creator does not require the imposition of a bunch of impossible rules on free beings. Rather than referring to ancient testaments of peoples long since past, we should look to the testament of our own existence. We begin life as beings with the ability to think and reason for ourselves. I think it is abomination to abandon reason and strive to abide by writs that did not even work for the people that created them.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:38 pm |
  9. Sam

    Considering that other supposedly learned individuals from Torqemada to Adolf Hitler to Jim Jones have interpreted that same book to justify some of the greatest abominations against humanity, I think I'll simply disregard Gagnon's opinion.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:26 pm |
    • Mark9988

      Of course, since choosing the worst examples of non-Christian behavior to prove a point about a book with which you have no familiarity seems the best defense available to you. Or do you seriously think that the Bible taught the things these people did? Hitler claimed to be a German too. Are you saying that all Germans therefore are mass murderers because one, who falsely claimed it (he was Austrian), was?

      March 3, 2011 at 9:55 pm |
    • Cantard

      Mark...I'm surprised at you. Didn't you name Pol Pot, Stalin, and Mao as Atheists in another comment? You do know the definition of hypocrisy right?

      March 3, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
  10. Anthony

    Christians mumble to a sky buddy with whom they have a "personal' relationship without any evidence of its existence, and they await a magical zombie to come down from the sky to rule the earth. Who says we don't need universal health care or education funding? Start with more mental health services and some science classes for all.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:26 pm |
    • Will

      That is actually really funny. : )

      March 3, 2011 at 9:37 pm |
    • Mark9988

      Thousands of years of scholarship, science, experience and faith-backed-by-evidence say you are wrong, yet I'll bet your ability to make snarky cynical comments have your beer-buddies thoroughly enthralled. So, I guess that makes you god.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:48 pm |
  11. Roy

    Why did CNN even bother to give this guy a forum? Slow news day? Had to distribute somenthing to get people fired up about? We have bigger concerns to discuss rather than "my religion is right and yours is not".

    March 3, 2011 at 9:26 pm |
    • Victoria M.

      Roy, you are so right! The so-called news has stopped being about real issues and now is mostly about how to get people worked up so they'll continue to watch and the "news agency" can sell their ads.

      In some cases "news" is about swaying peoples' opinions, but mostly it's about getting people angry and gossip (e.g., Charlie Sheen or Lindsay Lohan).

      March 3, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
  12. Nancy

    WHOA!! The Bible is not a rulebook! All have sinned and fallen short...... No one can keep the rules, so Jesus kept them all for us. Then he accepted the punishment due to all sinners. His death on the cross bought our ticket to heaven. I believe this and am offended by all of the people here who pick out bits and pieces of the Bible and condemn all Christians. The Bible was written in Hebrew and Greek and there are many translations of it. The message is still the same Have faith and you will live forever. It is a wonderful thing to be a Christian.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
  13. qmcs

    Longreach777: you are the biggest nut of all

    March 3, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
  14. Nancy

    WHOA!! The Bible is not a rulebook! All have sinned and fallen short...... No one can keep the rules, so Jesus kept them all for us. Then he accepted the punishment due to all sinners. His death on the cross bought our ticket to heaven. I believe this and am offended by all of the people here who pick out bits and pieces of the Bible and condemn all Christians. The Bible was written in Hebrew and Greek and there are many translations of it. The message is still the same Have faith and you will live forever. It is a wonderful think to be a Christian.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
    • Mark9988


      March 3, 2011 at 9:44 pm |
  15. phillipnc

    To those who are concerned that this article might encourage violence and mistreatment of LGBT's, I will say that this article would have done well to include a message discouraging such mistreatment. The fact that this article might be misused is no reflection on the teaching of the Scriptures and those who would mistreat LGBT's are also in disobedience to God and will be judged by him accordingly. The behavior of certain people has no bearing on the truth of religious claims. There are those who advocate, as the author of the article, that the Scriptures do lay out a certain plan that God has for mankind and certain behaviors God thinks are wholesome and others unwholesome. There are those who advocating that, also urge that all of mankind, made in the image of God no matter their behavior, are to be treated with love, dignity, and respect. Preachers and ministers of the Gospel are just that, messengers. You have no right to judge, rather, let the message do the judging, and remember that every person is made in God's image and whatever sin that LGBT's may be committing, we all have our own sins that we must give an account to God for. Bullying, hatred, violence, mistreatment, discrimination, etc. have no place in the Body of Christ. Remember who you claim to speak for and remember that he too will sit as your Judge one day.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:24 pm |
    • frank

      well said,
      it's unfortunate that there are so many things in the bible, that have been edited, translated for selective messaging, and that the bible is an accredited source of fact. Jesus did not carry around bible, but studied scripture, in which many of the passages and scriptures he read, are not in the bible.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:32 pm |
  16. Specter

    The bible also talks implicitly condones slavery. I think our society may be better served to not use a several thousand year old poorly translated book as a literal guide. Also, I find it odd that people who follow an "all loving" god have so much hate in their hearts.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:24 pm |
    • Mark9988

      The Bible does not condone slavery, but recognized it as a reality in the time and culture. In Genesis, man was not given dominion over man, but after the Fall he usurped this authority. Slavery in biblical times was nothing like the slavery in the American south; bond slaves voluntarily committed themselves to service when faced with the opportunity to be free. Familiarity with the Bible text (and context) is necessary before valid criticism can be offered about what it says.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:41 pm |
    • Cantard

      Mark, Exodus 21 "[in regards to a freed slave] if his master had given him a wife, and she had born him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her Masters and he [the slave] shall go out by himself.'

      Sorry, I doubt see an appreciable difference between this form of hereditary slavery and the one practiced in the American south. Read the IIlliad. Slavery in the ancient world is exactly what we think it is. These people were not paid servants. They were property.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:12 pm |
    • Mark9988

      Read it. Exodus dealt with a different culture (Jewish) than the Illiad (pagan), and under a completely different ethical system. Hereditary slavery in Exodus provided a form of economic security for the slave, and slaves were to be freed in the 7th year. Not so in the pagan system.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:18 pm |
    • Cantard

      Mark, a different ethical position? I thought the Bible was objective source of morality? Clearly, it does not equivocate that only at that time and that place is the practice acceptable. I've given a source. Contradict me with your own.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:23 pm |
  17. Charlie the clown

    My Take: Condem Christianity and all other religions, this world would run a lot smoother. It seems through out time religion has been the basis for hate and war worldwide, why do we put up with this? Can't we just bomb for the sake of killing? Why do we have to do it for king and country and all that crap? This world's got an abundance of people, seems to me offing a few billion would solve the fertilizer problem, along with housing prices. Seriously, consider this, religions are mostly used to rule the masses, it came of age along time ago when people needed something to rule them.. now we have government, so cant we just evolve past the notion that some omni-present being knows all and hands out fates at a whim exists up there between the constellation ursla major and cluster M114... Hasn't Hawkings already proved that there is no god?

    March 3, 2011 at 9:24 pm |
    • Matt

      So – your theory is that everything you see around you – all of the complexity of life – is the result of two molecules colliding in space billions of years ago? What takes more faith? You really have to not want any accountability to believe that nonsense. Hope you enjoy your life on earth.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
    • Cantard

      Athiest don't get a "Get out of jail free card." friend. We have to live with our mistakes and make the best out of things. Cause for us, once the lights go out, the shows over. Now who is more accountable? The man who pays for his mistakes, or the man who is "saved" from them?

      March 3, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
    • Mark9988

      Called Charlie the Clown for a reason.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:37 pm |
    • Nathan Kavanaugh

      You are a wonderful example of what a world full of atheists would look like: mass murder of those who disagree with you. You make an incredible evil, hateful comment that immediately places you in a category with some of the worst monsters of history. Religious or not, proponents of mass murder are the enemies of humanity, not people who believe in a loving God. I'm glad you are a "clown," rather than a person with enough competence to put your wicket ideas into practice.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:43 pm |
    • Will

      So Matt. You really don't see any logical problems with what you're saying here? You really, honestly don't see anything irrational about your position? What you're basically saying is: Because I/we can't (yet) explain to our satisfaction the origins of the universe using a scientific approach, then God must exist. You really, seriously don't see any problems with that? Dude. This is a baaaaaadddddd time to be cutting funding for education.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:48 pm |
    • Will

      Nathan. What's the percentage of non-believers in Sweden? In the U.S.? Next, what's the violent crime rate in Sweden? In the U.S.? Check your facts. Your comment is testimony to what a world full of people who don't care about reason and evidence is like. Fact: There are societies consisting almost entirely of non-believers, and those societies are among the least crime-ridden in the world. Now embrace the violent crime rate for our pious little corner of the world. Could we please all commit to caring about facts? Please!

      March 3, 2011 at 9:55 pm |
    • Mark9988

      Will has mistakenly identified "lack of crime" with "moral goodness". There has also been very little crime in the worst totalitarian regimes (atheist) because the state ethic was absolute allegiance to the state and fear prevailed. Pol Pot, Stalin, Mao were all atheists seeking the "perfect" society for their people. But a tree shall be known by its fruit. The same applies to those who call themselves Christians but bear the same fruit as the rest of the world.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:13 pm |
    • Cantard

      Stalin and Mao were also communists determined to purge their societies of all oppositions. Hitler was a catholic btw.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:18 pm |
    • Logic

      Entropy: the degradation of matter and energy in the universe to an ultimate state of inert uniformity, a process of degradation or running down or the trend to disorder (chaos, disorganization, randomness). If this is scientific fact, then what organizes matter & energy in the first place? Atheist logic says the “Big Bang Theory” organized & produced matter, energy , stars & planets, that’s like saying an exploding grenade can produces a shinny new red Chevy corvette!!! Come on atheist you need to do better than that.

      March 4, 2011 at 1:21 am |
  18. choptop

    The real question is, what the hell is an op-ed piece doing on the front page of a NEWS site?

    March 3, 2011 at 9:24 pm |
    • Jay Cox

      I totally agree. This conversations is very important. We need better venues for this sort of discussion. CNN op-eds viewed by many in the public as news reporting is not that venue (in my opinion).
      Why an op-ed piece as a main story is how CNN now operates is baffling. . CNN needs to stick to its core competencies.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:23 pm |
  19. Megan

    cnn you should be embarrassed for posting this. aesop's fables stories are not news.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:24 pm |
  20. Adam

    @ kkramer: You nailed it, well worded.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.